Jungle Cat

after Sylvia Plath

They named me Lion (Mane),
an animal of the genus Panthera,
and the 10-year-old me
whined, blinked, and laughed.
Did I ever like cats?

Such solitary creatures,
burdened with pensive thought,
their beauty a curse,
a lure as dangerous
as the siren’s call.
Filthy manipulators.

Then, “jungle cat,” I read.
No species,
just natural habitat.
The reverb rang hot
in my body.
A yawn elongated my limbs.
I slept soundly that night,
comforted by the shred of identity,
yet puzzled by its voracious calling.

And finally, one year,
the Shaman Dome,
the Spirit Animal Workshop:
a dark grey puma eyes me studiously.
She examines my DNA,
considers my flesh
between her teeth,
then turns to disappear
in the folds of the island’s jungle.
I follow,
expecting her to lead me
to another animal, one that was
selfless,
social,
serene.

Instead, cubs piled high,
in the middle of an open clearing,
where the trees bow away.
I can’t count how many,
but there is more than one.
Speechless, I begin to worry.
A puma? A large feline?
A primal cat? Offspring?

The nouns fall apart
in my mouth
like cheap chewing gum.

I am left with her,
hiking up a mountain,
the warm air
now cooling around us.

As the sun glinted
off the thick strands
of her dark coat,
she looked off
into the distance,
pondering what Spirit Animals ponder,
and I could hear it:
a feeling
of Home.

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